In comments to Lusa News Agency after an international seminar on gypsy communities, Catarina Marcelino argued that it was “very important” to work with municipalities in integrating members of these communities, but stressed that it would happen only after the local council elections in the autumn.
She said that the government is “studying the possibility not only of maintaining [European Union programme] Romed in its national version in the municipalities, but having municipal plans for the integration of the gypsy community.”
Romed is an EU social and cultural programme that performs a mediating function with the communities.
“We shall be inspired by some experiences that already exist and which have gone ahead alone, but we shall issue the challenge to a group of municipalities that might want to join us so we can have municipal plans,” Marcelino said.
According to the State Secretary, local authorities will be able to apply for funding to pay for mediators, with the new aspect that the priority will be on social and cultural mediation with the gypsy community, mainly focussed on linking the communities with schools with a view to reducing dropout rates, especially among girls.
“We know that mediation works”, said Marcelino.
“We have Opré [another programme] for university students [and] we need a more effective measure for education levels up to middle-school level, which is when there is more tendency to drop out”, she added.
On financing, Marcelino said that the government is seeking ways of ensuring independence from EU funds.
Housing was another issue highlighted at the international seminar held last week in Lisbon, where the new National Strategy for the Integration of Gypsy Communities (ENICC) was presented by the High Commissioner for Migration, but he also cited as major challenges high school dropout rates and failures, low levels of qualifications and illiteracy.
An update carried out last year on the first and only national study on gypsy communities, in which all municipalities took part, found that there were 37,089 members of these communities in Portugal.
In terms of municipalities, the largest numbers are in Lisbon, at 2,987, in Seixal, at 1,430, and in Vila Nova de Gaia, at 831.
By district, Lisbon has 5,950 while Setúbal has 3,687 and Porto 3,304.
This move comes after a European report in December found that almost half of Portugal’s gypsies said they felt they had been discriminated against at some point during 2016, and, according to the report, said they feel they suffer the most prejudice of gypsies from nine different European countries.
The EU-MIDIS II report was based on input from surveys of 25,000 people of various ethnic minorities, among them 7,947 gypsies from Spain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary and Romania, as well as Portugal; countries that account for 80 percent of Europe’s Roma ethnics, plus 33,785 other individuals.
According to the FRA report, 71 percent of Portuguese gypsies suffered an episode of discrimination within the past five years, while 47 percent claimed to have been discriminated against in the 12 months preceding the inquiry, which is one of the worst results of the countries surveyed.
Portugal’s gypsies said they felt the most prejudice when looking for employment.
The report further highlighted that in Portugal, Greece and Romania “hardly any of the gypsies surveyed knew of any support organisations” and only 36 percent of the total respondents said they were aware that laws exist, banning discrimination based on the colour of skin, ethnicity or religion.
“The results differ considerably between countries, with the lowest level of knowledge being in Portugal”, the report concluded.